By Stuart Honeysett
September 2, 2008 - The Australian
THE Bulldogs could lobby the federal Government for funding to upgrade Belmore Oval with a view to returning to the club's spiritual home.
Bulldogs chief executive Todd Greenberg confirmed yesterday the subject had come up for discussion with Prime Minister Kevin Rudd and Treasurer Wayne Swan during Sunday's game against Brisbane at ANZ Stadium.
Rudd, a Broncos supporter, and Swan, were invited to the match by Brisbane officials but watched the game from the Bulldogs' corporate box.
"The club needs to continue to explore all its options," Greenberg said yesterday.
"I've said a lot of times the Bulldogs should be playing the right games in the right stadiums.
"We've got a long-term deal with ANZ, who have been nothing but supportive of our efforts."
It is not the first time the Bulldogs have made noises this season about their future. Greenberg indicated last month the club would be remiss not to explore a relocation to Gosford.
The suggestion drew howls of protest from loyal supporters but was backed by veteran coach Steve Folkes, who said the club needed to look at all options to ensure its financial security.
The club's future at ANZ Stadium continues to be an issue, especially after only 7685 fans turned up to farewell Folkes and hooker Corey Hughes in their final home game for the club.
It is understood the Prime Minister asked Bulldogs officials why the game was not played at Belmore Oval, prompting informal talks about whether the club could acquire government assistance to return there.
It is believed that it would cost at least $30 million to bring Belmore Oval up to NRL standards. The club intends to follow the matter up by making contact with Rudd's office.
There are several areas that would need to be improved, including an upgrade of the ground and training facilities, increased seating, parking, media requirements and lighting.
The Bulldogs could also lobby the NSW Government given Belmore Oval is in the electorate of Lakemba, held by Premier Morris Iemma.
Although the club has had problems with local council over the state of Belmore, which prompted its move to Olympic Park, the council could also be approached to help with funding.
"Belmore's certainly not currently fit to host NRL matches unless significant funding was available from government," Greenberg said.
"But I wouldn't be doing my job as a CEO if I didn't explore all the different opportunities available to the club."
The Bulldogs played their final match at Belmore Oval against Melbourne in 1998, beating the Storm 8-4 in front of a modest crowd of 11,179.
They shifted to the Olympic stadium (ANZ) in 1999-2000 before moving to the Sydney Showground from 2001-03. From 2003-05 they shifted games between the two venues.
In 2006 they signed a 15-year contract with Telstra Stadium (now ANZ) to play their home games at the ground, with the stadium underwriting every match for $100,000.
The Bulldogs are not the only NRL club that plays some or all of their home games at ANZ Stadium. Financial incentives also lured South Sydney, St George Illawarra and Wests Tigers to the venue.
The ground has come under attack on several fronts this season, predominantly for the state of the surface and the lack of atmosphere in a 80,000-plus seat stadium.
Subsequently it has been reported the Dragons and the Tigers will be looking for a different home ground when their deals expire at the end of the season.
Giving the Bulldogs some hope is the fact the Dragons received $15 million in combined funding from both the federal and state governments for an upgrade which started in 2006.
The club moved some of its home games away from Kogarah this season to allow further upgrades to continue and will return there next year.